Diet, Health, And Fitness Guide

There's so much information out there on health and fitness, it's almost impossible to keep up. Not only that, the information often conflicts.

So, the folks at Consumer Reports have sifted through a great deal of it and boiled it down to a 175-page book, "Consumer Reports 2005 Guide to Diet, Health & Fitness."

The information in the book comes from recent articles that were published in Consumer Reports magazine and the Consumer Reports Health Letter. Even that source material was updated, as the facts continued to change.

The book covers diet and nutrition, vitamins and supplements, fitness and exercise and health and wellness.

Ronni Sandroff, Consumer Reports magazine's health editor, tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler the guide's health and wellness theme is really about staying healthy, rather than treating disease.

One key thing you can do to avoid getting sick is to strengthen your immune system. We're talking prevention, Sandroff stresses. Doing so not only helps you avoid getting the cold and flu, but helps protect from more serious diseases, such as cancer.

Sandroff offered viewers information typical of what's in the book:


  • Feed your white blood cells by getting enough nutrients. Even moderate shortages of certain vitamins and minerals can undermine your ability to fight infection. And this is pretty common, especially in older people. Surveys have shown that about one-third of older people consume less than the recommended amounts of one or more nutrients, such as vitamin D, and the B vitamins, in particular. A multivitamin is a good way to make sure you consume the nutrients you need.
  • Work out, but don't overdo it. Exercise strengthens your immune system, but you can run it down if you exhaust yourself.
  • Pay attention to stress, which can affect your immune system. We tend to ignore being under stress. However, we have to develop a portfolio of ways to relax. You need a few things you can do, because you can't always go for a massage.
  • Get enough sleep. Research has shown that insufficient sleep seems to cause some immune system components to mistakenly attack the body. This may worsen autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, and cause arterial inflammation, which causes heart disease.
  • Don't overuse antibiotics to treat viral infections such as the common cold. Parents should also refrain from using antibiotic treatment for fluid buildup in their children's ears, unless an examination shows they have an infection. Studies suggest that exposure to infection and other allergens early in life may help build a well-developed immune system. Conversely, frequent exposure to antibiotics may weaken immunity by killing the bacteria that the body would otherwise have to grapple with.

If you think you are getting a lot more colds than other people, you can have your doctor check your white blood cell count, which is your first line of defense against disease. A very high or very low count could reflect a problem with your immune system.

The following is an excerpt from, "Consumer Reports Guide to Diet, Health & Fitness."

How to bolster your immune system

Your body is under constant assault from invading bacteria and viruses, as well as from your own mutating cells. A healthy immune system––well-armed with white blood cells, antibodies, and certain proteins and other substances––will keep those invaders and renegades in check by destroying, devouring, or inactivating them.

But a number of forces can undermine those defenses, increasing your risk of infection and possibly cancer, and slowing your recovery from illness. Weakened defenses can also give viruses that have been lurking in your system, sometimes for decades, an opportunity to pounce. For example, the virus that causes chicken pox in children can become active and cause shingles, a painful nerve disease.

You can help keep your immune system strong by eating and exercising wisely, taking certain supplements if necessary, minimizing stress, and avoiding external assaults, such as overexposure to the sun, ingestion of some pollutants, and overuse of certain medications. Those measures offer protection even in older adults, contradicting the long-held notion that immunity inevitably declines with advancing age.

Here are the details on what you can do to energize and maintain your body's defenses against disease.

Scientists have long known that malnutrition—a grossly inadequate intake of protein and calories—can devastate the body's immune system. Now they've confirmed that insufficient intakes of certain vitamins and minerals—even moderate shortages that don't cause obvious signs of deficiency—can also undermine the body's weapons against infection and other diseases.
Nutrient shortfalls are fairly common, especially in older people who are unable to buy, prepare, and eat a balanced diet. Surveys indicate that about one-third of older people consume significantly less than the recommended amount of one or more nutrients.

The most frequently scanted nutrients include zinc, selenium, iron, the B vitamins (including folic acid), vitamins C and D, and beta-carotene. People who lack any of those tend to have signs of weakened immunity, mainly fewer and less active natural killer cells, a group of white blood cells that are the body's vital first line of defense against disease.

Several studies have found that correcting nutritional shortages can restore normal immune function and reduce the risk of infection as well. For example, Canadian researchers found that a multivitamin/mineral supplement taken daily for one year strengthened the body's defenses and reduced the risk and duration of infection in people who had marginally low levels of various nutrients.

In well-nourished individuals, however, observational studies suggest that immune function remains relatively strong, even in most older people. Moreover, at least two clinical trials have found that taking multivitamin/mineral supplements did not lower the risk of infection in well-fed individuals.

The evidence on whether mega-doses of individual nutrients—notably vitamin E and zinc––can enhance immunity has been contradictory, especially in people who eat adequately. Indeed, a recent large clinical trial on this question found that well-nourished people who took extra vitamin E were sick longer and with worse symptoms during the 15-month study than those who took a placebo. As for extra vitamin C, there's little evidence that it helps treat colds and virtually none that it helps prevent them.

Recommendation: A diet rich in produce, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy products should provide an ample supply of most nutrients linked to healthy immunity. People who don't consume a nutritious diet should take a daily multivitamin/ mineral supplement.

But even with an ideal diet, everyone over age 50 should consume at least 2.4 micrograms per day of supplemental vitamin B12, from either fortified foods or a modest B12 or multivitamin supplement. That's because many middle-aged and older people don't produce enough stomach acid to adequately absorb that vitamin from food. While most well-fed older people's immunity does remain fairly robust, supplemental B12 can not only help ensure
optimal defenses but also protect against several other potential problems caused by B12 deficiency.

And people who seldom get out in the sun may need supplemental vitamin D supplied by a multivitamin or a vitamin-D pill, especially if they're over age 65, when the skin's ability to synthesize the vitamin from sunlight diminishes. A daily supplement of 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D is recommended for people in their 50s and 60s, 600 to 800 IU for older people, and 1,000 IU for people of any age who are rarely exposed to sunlight.

During very intense exercise, the body handles the physical stress in part by pumping out the emergency hormones cortisol and adrenaline. The hormones temporarily impair immune function, which may allow viruses and bacteria to gain a foothold during those periods. That may explain why several studies have found increased susceptibility to infection among people who exercise extremely hard—while preparing for a marathon, for example.

Workouts that aren't exhausting, however, have the opposite effect: They temporarily strengthen the immune system, by boosting the aggressiveness of natural killer cells and the bacteria-gobbling capacity of other immune cells called macrophages. Repeated often enough, those short-term boosts, lasting up to a few hours, can apparently yield substantial benefits.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina and the University of Massachusetts recently studied some 550 adults. Those who regularly exercised at least moderately had about 25 percent fewer colds during the one-year study than those who seldom or never exercised. Results of at least three small clinical trials tend to confirm that finding. In all three, women who were told to walk briskly most days for three months developed colds only about half as often as those who didn't exercise.

Should you work out if you're already sick? When you have a cold, moderate exercise is OK if it makes you feel better. But be aware that because of your weakened state you may find your typical workout routine exhausting, and overdoing it might undermine your battle against the bug.
If you have a more serious infection, like pneumonia or the flu—marked by fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, or swollen lymph glands—any exercise can overtax your struggling immune system and worsen the illness.

Recommendation: The more exercise you do, the more immune benefits you'll reap, provided you stop short of exhaustion. Avoid workouts that cause uncomfortable shortness of breath, profuse sweating in cold or mild weather, feelings of unsteadiness, or substantial fatigue or muscle pain.
If you have a cold, ratchet down your workouts. Don't exercise at all if you have a more serious infection, and avoid intense activity for one to two weeks after symptoms disappear.

Reprinted with permission of Consumer Reports and Time Inc. Home Entertainment, February 2005, All rights reserved.